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Bemused by Bath

I’ve been to Bath many times, but never really as a tourist. I’d never taken the hop-on, hop-off tour bus or even visited the Royal Crescent. I’d not been to any of the museums or taken afternoon tea. So spending a few days there in the company of the lovely MI, was a treat.

When you begin to scratch the surface and get past the tiered cake trays and afternoon teas, Bath has some interesting tales to tell. ThePulteney Bridge, for instance, is one of just four such structures remaining in the world. Designed by Robert Adam rumour has it that it might have been based on the  Palladio’s  design for the Rialto in Venice (the one that was rejected!)

Up at the Royal Crescent, the original thirty owners of the building only bought a length of the façade, and then built what they liked behind it. The lovely curve of the crescent visible from the front, turns into quite a higgedly piggedly mix of all sorts. Surprise, surprise, there is a name for this type of architecture: Queen Anne fronts and Mary-Anne backs.

In the squares around Bath Abbey, opera singers ply their trade as tourists and locals alike perch on the benches and enjoy their lunch or afternoon tea. This juxtaposition of formality and informality is just one of the many things that makes Bath interesting.  Way back in January 1539 Bath Priory was surrendered to the Crown. The church was stripped everything that could be moved – lead, iron and glass – and left to die. But the citizens of Bath rallied round – even if it was nearly a generation later – and rescued it.

The grandeur that is Bath is evident everywhere you turn. And the wholesomeness of life is there to see. Food festivals, home-brewed ciders, homemade cheese, farmers markets and boutique shops, the city reeks of individuality. While it does pay homage to globalisation and gives street space to national High street chains, there is still plenty of originality to be found.

There’s a quirkiness about the place that keeps you wondering. Was I really looking into an old Georgian library at a man in from the 1800s sitting reading a book? And despite its righteousness, it was here that the world’s first postmark was stamped on May 2nd 1840.  Rowland Hill ’s  penny black stamps had been distributed to post office around the country for the grand launch on 6 May, but Bath’s  main Post Office on Broad Street rather cheekily grabbed its place in history and started selling them four days earlier. It’s a gobsmackingly gorgeous city and one in which I’ll be keeping an eye on property prices.

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2 Responses

  1. What a lovely article! Having read references to Bath all my life, and never been there, my first reaction was ‘oh my, it really exists’ and then ‘oh, my… it STILL exists’. Thanks, Mary. For those intrigued, as I was, by the reference to the ‘Queen Anne fronts and Mary-Anne Backs’, you can see a photo of the front/back of the curving crescent at http://www.somersetguide.co.uk/Bath/ if you scroll about halfway down the page.

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